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NHL embraces holiday roster freeze as a popular tradition

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By Stephen Whyno  (AP Hockey Writer)

Greg Millen thought he had an extension from the St. Louis Blues to celebrate at Christmas in 1989.

Instead, he was traded. So there he was, sitting in the living room with his family as a Quebec Nordiques executive brought logo-covered pajamas and gifts for his three young daughters to convince the goaltender to report to his new team.

”It was very close to Christmas when that happened,” Millen said. ”I think I reported right afterward on my own, which was very difficult. It was all during the holidays this was going on. That was a tough one.”

The very next year, on Dec. 21, 1990, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Rob Brown to the Hartford Whalers for Scott Young, and on Dec. 23, 1991, the Los Angeles Kings traded Corey Millen to the New York Rangers for Randy Gilhen.

No deals have been made that close to Christmas in the decades since thanks to an oddity in major North American professional sports: The NHL’s holiday roster freeze, which allows players to breathe easy for more than a week each December. Teams can’t trade, waive or loan players to the minors from Dec. 18 at 11:59 p.m. to Dec. 27 at 12:01 a.m., save for a few injury exceptions.

”It’s kind of a common-sense thing, and I think it’s good for hockey,” Young said. ”What does it turn into if there’s no trade freeze at all? It turns into who’s going to outwork the other guy and make a deal on Christmas morning when his kids are opening up presents? You don’t want it to be like that.”

Players can be traded or waived in the NBA and released in the NFL on Christmas Eve or on the holiday itself. The NBA’s Houston Rockets waived guard Jeremy Lin on Christmas in 2011, the New Orleans Pelicans traded Ish Smith to the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas Eve in 2015 – leading to the release of Tony Wroten – and the Pittsburgh Steelers cut running back Daryl Richardson last year on Christmas Eve.

The NHL’s closest trade to Christmas in recent years came in 2015 when the Montreal Canadiens dealt Ben Scrivens to the Edmonton Oilers for Zack Kassian on Dec. 28 after the freeze ended. Coaching moves are more common. Toronto’s Ron Wilson announced his long-since-signed contract extension on Christmas 2011 and the New Jersey Devils fired Peter DeBoer on Dec. 26, 2014.

The Penguins beat the freeze Tuesday by completing two trades, acquiring Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, but everyone knew it would be quiet on the transaction front beyond that.

”We have a busy schedule for the most part throughout the entire year, so it’s nice to have a couple periods of time there where you know nothing’s going to happen just so you can plan family stuff,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who was traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in February 2011.

The NHL’s holiday roster freeze is spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement and traces its origins to the 1992 strike that was largely about playoff bonuses and free agency. A memorandum of understanding signed in 1993 included reference to a Dec. 19-27 roster freeze for trades and waiver. The wording was put into the CBA in 1995 and it was extended to minor league loans coming out of the 2004-05 lockout.

”It was just something where guys once they could go into the holidays where it wouldn’t disrupt their holidays,” said Young, who’s now the Penguins’ director of player development. ”If we’re in all kinds of trade rumors and we make it to right around Christmas, let us just leave peace of mind where we can relax over the holidays and try to enjoy them.”

The NHL used to play games on Christmas like the NBA, but that stopped after 1971. There are no games from Dec. 24-26 – an extra day off was negotiated in 2013 – and with the physical break comes a mental rest.

”Guys get to spend the time with their family,” said Mathieu Schneider, a longtime defenseman who is now special assistant to the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. ”You’re with your family, not getting sent up or down to the minors or traded – no threat.”

It can create some roster juggling and a few complications, especially with the salary cap involved, but the holiday freeze is largely regarded as humane.

”It allows people to have a little bit of a normal life,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ”The last thing you want to be doing is packing up your stuff on Christmas Day and heading to another team. It doesn’t morally feel right. I’m glad they have the freeze, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Golden Knights sign defenseman Engelland to one-year deal

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Vegas Golden Knights signed defenseman Deryk Engelland on Tuesday to a one-year deal for the upcoming season.

The contract includes a $700,000 base salary and incentives that could bring the total value of the deal to $1.5 million.

The 37-year-old Engelland played in 74 games last season and finished with 12 points and 18 penalty minutes. He set career-marks with 152 blocked shots and 165 hits.

The Knights took Engelland during the 2017 expansion draft.

The team also acquired goaltender Garret Sparks from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward David Clarkson and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

Trade: Clarkson contract back to Toronto; Vegas opens up space

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Nostalgia is in the air, as “The Lion King” remake is in theaters, so maybe it’s time to cue “The Circle of Life.”

In a peculiar bit of salary cap management, David Clarkson – er, David Clarkson’s contract – and the Toronto Maple Leafs are back together again. While Garret Sparks goes to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs receive a fourth-round pick for their troubles.

Maple Leafs get: Clarkson’s contract ($5.25M for one more season), Vegas 2020 fourth-round pick.

Golden Knights receive: Cap relief even though they were going to send Clarkson to LTIR; a decent goalie consideration with Garret Sparks.

This is all about cap and asset management for both teams.

Clarkson was headed to LTIR whether his contract stayed in Vegas or matriculated to Toronto, and now his deal can be neighbors with Nathan Horton after they were exchanged. The Maple Leafs still have some work to do, naturally, as they need to fit Mitch Marner into the mix. The numbers might melt your brain a bit.

The Golden Knights still need to sort out their own issues with Nikita Gusev lingering as a fascinating RFA, and that resolution hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, or maybe instead, the Golden Knights took advantage of extra wiggle room to bring back veteran (and Vegas-loving) defenseman Deryk Engelland for a cheap deal.

Depth goaltending also buzzed around these moves.

Again, Sparks represents an interesting consideration for Vegas, as Malcolm Subban hasn’t been an unqualified solution as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup. Perhaps Sparks would end up prevailing after both of their contracts expire following the 2019-20 season?

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs opened up room for a depth option as well, as they confirmed that Michal Neuvirth has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

It kind of makes you want to dig up that Charlie Kelly mailroom conspiracy board to try to cover all the ins and outs, but the bigger picture takeaway is that the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights continue to work on their cap conundrums, and this trade was really just another step in the process.

At least it was a pretty odd and funny step, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators are being bold with term; are they being smart?

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If nothing else, the Nashville Predators aren’t afraid to be bold.

In a vacuum, the Colton Sissons signing isn’t something that will make or break the Predators’ future. That seven-year, $20 million contract has inspired some fascinating debates, but the most interesting questions arise around GM David Poile’s larger team building, and his courageous decisions.

As we’ve seen, Poile doesn’t just lock up obvious core players to term, he frequently gives supporting cast players unusual security, too.

This signing seems like a good excuse to dive into the Predators’ biggest offseason decisions, and also ponder maybe the biggest one of all: what to do with captain Roman Josi, whose bargain contract will only last for one more season.

The interlocking P.K. Subban, Matt Duchene, Roman Josi situation

By any reasonable estimate, the Predators got hosed in getting such a small return for Subban in that deal with the Devils.

Of course, the Predators’ goal wasn’t necessarily to get a great return for Subban, but instead to get rid of Subban’s $9M to (most directly) sign Matt Duchene, and maybe eventually provide more leeway to extend Josi.

There was some argument to trading away Subban, as at 30, there’s a risk that his $9M AAV could become scary.

The thing is, the Predators only seemed to expose themselves to greater risks. It remains to be seen if Matt Duchene will be worth $8M, even right away, and he’s already 28. Roman Josi turned 29 in June, so if Josi’s cap hit is comparable to Subban’s — and it could be a lot higher if Josi plays the market right — then the Predators would take even bigger risks on Josi. After all, Josi’s next contract will begin in 2020-21, while Subban’s is set to expire after 2021-22.

So, in moving on from Subban to Duchene and/or Josi, the Predators are continuing to make big gambles that they’re right. Even if Subban really was on the decline, at least his deal isn’t going on for that much longer. Nashville’s instead chosen one or maybe two even riskier contracts at comparable prices, really rolling the dice that they’re not painting themselves into a corner.

There’s also the scenario where Josi leaves Nashville, and things could get pretty dizzying from there.

Even if you look at it as a Matt Duchene for P.K. Subban trade alone, that’s not necessarily a guaranteed “win” for Nashville. It’s all pretty bold, though.

[This post goes into even greater detail about trading Subban, and the aftermath.]

Lots of term

Nashville doesn’t have much term locked in its goalies Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, which is wise, as goalies are very tough to predict. Those risks are instead spread out to a considerable number of skaters, and Poile’s crossing his fingers that he’s going to find the sweet spot with veterans, rather than going all that heavy on youth.

The long-term plan has frequently been fruitful for the Predators, as Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M for five more seasons) and Filip Forsberg ($6M for three more seasons) rank as some of the best bargains in the NHL. Josi’s $4M is right up there, though that fun ride ends after 2019-20.

Your mileage varies when you praise the overall work, though, because some savings are offset by clunkers. It stings to spend $10.1M in combined cap space on Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino, especially since $16M for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen ranks somewhere between “the price of doing business” and “bad.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So that’s the thing with locking down supporting cast members. It’s nice to have a defensive forward who seemingly moves the needle like Colton Sissons seems to do …

… Yet is he a bit of an extravagance at $2.857M per year? Again, that’s a matter of debate.

The uncomfortable truth is that, if the Predators are wrong about enough of these deals, then it’s that much tougher to wiggle your way out of mistakes. Yes, maybe the Predators can move Sissons if he slides, but you risk falling behind the pack if you lose value propositions too often.

Will that be the case with the Predators? We’ll have to wait and see, and the most fascinating test cases come down the line. If it doesn’t work out next year, in particular, then things could pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sissons, Predators agree to seven-year, $20 million deal

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We see long-term deals with high annual average values.

We see short-term deals with lower annual average values.

But rarely do we see long-term deals with low annual average values. Like less than $3 million low.

Yet, despite the rarity of such a pact, David Poile and the Nashville Predators have become some sort of trendsetters in getting plays to sign lengthy deals worth a pittance annually.

Colton Sissons becomes the second in the past three years to sign on with the Predators long-term at a small AVV. Sissons new deal, avoiding arbitration, is a seven-year contract worth $20 million — an AAV of $2.85 million.

“Colton will be an important part of our team for the next seven seasons, and we are happy he has made a long-term commitment to our organization and the city the Nashville,” Poile said. “He’s a heart and soul player who is versatile and can fill many important roles on our team, including on the penalty kill and power play. His offensive production has increased each season, and he remains an integral part of our defensive structure down the middle of the ice. Colton is also an up-and-coming leader in our organization, which is something we value strongly.”

Poile seems to have no issue signing depth guys to lengthy deals. In 2016, he signed Calle Jarnkork to a six-year deal worth $12 million. In fact, he’s the only general manager to pull of such moves.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Both players have chosen security over maximizing earning potential.

Sissons, 25, had a career-year last season, scoring 15 goals and 30 points in 75 games.

His AAV is in the ballpark of what was projected. Evolving Wild’s model had him making $2.65 million. What wasn’t foreseen is that term.

EW’s model projected a three-year contract for Sissons with a 30.2 percent probability of coming to fruition. But what percentage of chance did EW give a seven-year contract? 0.4 percent.

Anything is possible, kids.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck